President Obama is in trouble. Poll after poll shows Mitt Romney gaining ground almost everywhere, and Gallup even has the Governor ahead by two points nationally. Also, reports say there is a low level panic going on inside the Obama reelection headquarters in Chicago. So, it is crunch time for the president. He must perform well in the debate next Tuesday night - or begin auditioning for a cable pundit job.
Anyone who knows Mr. Obama understands that he likes being the underdog, and will most likely deliver a rousing performance at Hofstra University. Mr. Obama is certainly aware that another emotional no-show will doom him. In Denver, he looked like he spent the pre-debate hours at a medical marijuana shop.
But the "Town Hall" debate format on Tuesday gives a slight advantage to Governor Romney. The candidates will field questions from undecided voters selected by the Gallup Organization. After the question is posed, Obama and Romney will have two minutes to answer it. The moderator, Candy Crowley, a CNN correspondent, will then jump in to "facilitate a discussion."
What this means is simple: The regular person asking the question will most likely frame it in a general way, so the candidates can pretty much say whatever they want.
Question: "My cousin Otis has been unemployed for eight years. How can you get him a job?"
Answer (President Obama): "If Otis had worked at an American car company he'd be employed today because I saved that industry ..."
Answer (Mitt Romney): "I had a cousin named Otis too, and when I turned the Olympics around I gave him a job ..."
You get the idea.
What will most likely happen in the Town Hall is that Mr. Obama will harken back to the first debate, and list all the "lies" he and his handlers believe Mr. Romney told. Only he won't call them "lies." He'll imply that and try to paint the governor as a charlatan who changes opinions the way Lady Gaga changes costumes.
But the governor should be able to easily counter because he has to know what's coming. All he has to do is watch MSNBC, which chronicles his "lies" daily. So, Romney will most likely counter with the old Reaganism, "there you go again." He can't actually say that - but he'll use words to that effect, and continue portraying the President as a clueless socialist.
In the end, the Town Hall debate will be less punchy than the Denver back and forth. The smart money is predicting a draw with both candidates bloviating at will. It will be almost impossible to pin them down.
Next up - foreign policy in Boca Raton, Florida. With the Libyan fiasco hot in the news, that debate could be quite a challenge for the president.